Question: Summer is here and my fair-skinned three-year-old has come home with a horrible sunburn after his first day at the beach. Is there anything I can do to relieve the burning and itching that is keeping him awake at night? And how do I prevent this from happening on our next outing to the beach?
Answer: If you consult any of the books on child care, they will tell you that the most important treatment for sunburn is prevention. Of course this advice does you no good if your child is already sunburned.
A very good topical treatment for sunburn is an ointment or gel called Combudoron by Weleda (www.weleda.com). It contains a number of ingredients that can help heal sunburn. Chief among them is Urtica urens, or small stinging nettle. Like other nettles, Urtica urens causes a burning sensation when it comes in contact with the skin. In this preparation, it acts like a homeopathic remedy to take away the burn.
Other ingredients in this soothing ointment include Echinacea and Calendula for wound healing and antiseptic action; Hypericum for its anti-viral properties; Aloe vera to accelerate wound healing in burns; Equisetum for wound healing; and Lavender and Pine essential oils.
In cases of open blisters and sores, the best treatment is fresh squeezed aloe juice. You’ll need to purchase an aloe plant at a nursery. Split a leaf lengthwise and squeeze out plenty of the juice onto the blisters. They should then be covered, not only to protect the wounds, but also because the flow of air over a wound can exacerbate the pain. Cover the wounds with saran wrap and then lightly with gauze.
By mouth, the patient can take homeopathic Cantharis and Arnica. Cantharis is derived from the green blister beetle, also known as Spanish fly, which has a burning bite. Arnica, as is well known, helps with achiness and soreness.
There are also dietary remedies that can help. Cod liver oil can help calm the nerves and hasten the healing process. Likewise, a natural vitamin C, such as Amla-C from Radiant Life (888-593-8333) will support healing and calm itchiness; taken at night a natural vitamin C will make it easier to sleep.
MSG exacerbates pain so care should be taken to avoid all processed food, most of which contains MSG. This may be a tall order in the summer when children are spending time on the beach and other areas where fast food is so readily available.
Sugar and sweet foods should be minimized, as these cause either low or high blood sugar, both of which make it difficult to heal and worsen feeling of pain. One theory holds that sugar consumption exacerbates the tendency to sunburn rather than tan.
As for avoiding a recurrence of sunburn, it is important to limit time in the sun, so that a tan can be developed gradually. The best thing is to cover the torso with a lightweight, light colored tee-shirt while at the beach and in the bright sunlight.
I do not recommend sunscreens as these have been implicated as contributing to skin cancer, but zinc oxide can be applied to the most vulnerable spots, such as the nose and shoulders.
With these precautions you should be able to avoid a repeat of the unpleasant effects of sunburn.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2006.